How to Choose the Best Seat on a Bus

by Hansen Hunt on August 30, 2010 · 20 comments

This bus has seen better days.

This bus has seen better days.

Traveling across a country via a bus can be a lot of fun, and can also be very painful. You can make or break a 12 hour bus ride by simply choosing the best seat. Everyone has their own preferences, but I will break down several factors to consider when boarding your next long distance bus ride.

These insider tips on how to choose the best seat on a bus are geared towards bus rides over 3 hours in length, and in Mexico, but can easily be applied to other countries.

Things to consider before strategically selecting a seat:

Bus Travel in Mexico

Bus Travel in Mexico

* Do the windows open and close?
* Are there blinds?
* Do the seats recline?
* Is there a bathroom on board?
* Are there movie screens and where are they located?
* Are there assigned seats?
* Is there air conditioning?

How to choose your seat on the bus?

  • Aisle or Window Seat: Some people love the view, gazing out the window on a scenic mountain drive. Unfortunately, if someone sits down in the aisle seat next to you, every time you need to get up you will need to have them move. Your leg room is also limited in the window seat. In the aisle seat, you get the space but not the view. Access to the bathroom is easy, but you also get bumped by every person walking by. If you are a person who can stay seated for extended periods of time, and don’t mind limited space, the window seat is for you. For me, definitely the Aisle.
  • View of Movie Screen: If you know there are TVs on board, be sure to pick a seat that has a direct view. Killing time has never been easier than watching three movies straight… in a different language.
  • Distance to Restroom: You never want to be directly next to the restroom because of the foul smell, but being somewhat close can be helpful. If you know you will need to use it a few times during the ride, a front row seat isn’t great because you are bumping into people every time you need to run to the toilet. About 5-6 rows from the back works fine, reducing the smell but keeping you within moments reach.
  • Electronic Seat Selection: If you can choose your seat ahead of time, choosing the aisle seat on a vacant row is the best bet. No one wants to have to squeeze pass a stranger to get to the window seat, leaving you with a good chance of having two seats to yourself. If its a full bus, your aisle seat may come in handy anyways if the person next to you is over sized.
  • Time of Day: After making this mistake a couple times, I finally learned. Figure out where the sun is at during your passage! If you are hot already, the sun beating down on you will make the trip miserable. If you are heading north in the morning, sit on the left side of the bus. If you are heading south, sit on the right side. Remember, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.
  • Last Minute Adjustments: Is the bus looking like it will fill up? If not, jump over to a vacant row before someone else takes advantage of it. The worst that can happen is the person whose seat you stole jumps on board last minute and you head back to your own seat.

If I was boarding an 8-10 hour bus in the morning heading south that had TVs, AC, seat selection, and a bathroom, I would sit 5-6 rows from the back in a right hand side aisle seat… praying no one sits next to me. When the crying baby and Mom or sumo wrestler plops down next to you, at least you have the movies to stare at, right?

My long term bus experiences were mostly in Mexico and I would love to hear from you about how it differs around the world.

About the Author:

is the author of 9 posts on Go Backpacking.

Hansen Hunt is an avid traveler passionate about sustainable tourism. After studying and travelling through Europe and backpacking through Mexico, Hansen started his personal travel blog at Unomos.com to share his adventures and travel tips. Currently, he quit his desk job and is working on publishing his first sustainable travel guide that will help people support the local culture and environment of a destination. You can connect with Hansen through Twitter and Facebook.

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Categories: Features, Mexico, Planning
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20 Comments

Ayngelina August 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I had been sitting in front but then heard of a head on collision, actually a few of them in Colombia and realized I needed to move to the middle.

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Dave August 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I have to admit, I haven’t been moving around the country a lot by bus, but now that you mention this, I’ll be in the middle too!

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Adam August 30, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Knowing the time of day and where the sun is in the sky is CRITICAL when traveling by bus! I learned that the hard way in Morocco.

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Michael Hodson August 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Good comments. I agree with the aisle seat thing. Getting up mid-night to go to the bathroom and crawling over someone is no damn fun. And being able to stretch into the aisle is handy.

Another thing to consider is front or back of the bus. The back of the bus is more bumpy (closer to the back axle). The front of the bus provides a better ride…. but also means you are closer to the possible impact of a head on collision. And frankly, if you’ve seen how crazy bus drivers are around the world — this is something you should be more worried about than you think — good friend of mine was in a bus that hit someone head-on in the middle of the night — driver and 3 people up front died. He was in the back and was banged up, but OK.

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Dave August 30, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I’ve taken my share of overnight buses, but don’t recall ever having to use the toilet while everyone else was asleep. Gotta plan your bathroom breaks and fluid intake properly!

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Hansen N Hunt August 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Oh man, I hadn’t even thought of that.

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Hansen N Hunt August 30, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Yeah I will sacrifice sitting above the back axle in exchange for my safety.

@Dave I think it is a last minute decision. If you planned accordingly, then you should be fine. But if you happen to be dealing with some stomach sickness, access to the bathroom is vital. And I drink a ton of water, so at least one trip during the night is almost guaranteed.

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Lisa E August 31, 2010 at 1:25 am

Hi. I’ve traveled through Mexico, a good portion of Central America and some countries in South America. The two things that I factor in when choosing a seat are:

–how scary the ride’s going to be (if very scary, I recommend sitting in the middle; the worst thing to do is sit up front and see how the driver is actually driving)

–who’s sitting where (if you can choose as you’re boarding). As a woman, it’s important to choose carefully and best to sit near other women (no offense, guys, but a solo female has to be careful, especially overnight)

Great blog, btw!

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Hansen N Hunt August 31, 2010 at 5:39 am

Thanks Lisa! Those are great tips. As a guy, I haven’t really taken the second into much consideration other than the fact I would much rather sit next to a hundred pound female than a 250/300 pound male. I’ve only had a couple scary rides, and not only is the middle good but the aisle seats so you don’t have to see straight down the cliff at 60 mph.

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Lisa E September 21, 2010 at 9:59 am

I hear you re: the larger-sized males–not fun to sit next to them! If you’re a woman, it seems those men begin to think you’re their gf or something and lean into you a bit.

The aisle is better–I totally agree. As for the those cliffs, I medicate and try not to look!

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May August 31, 2010 at 6:37 pm

When I think the bus will have a few extra seats and not get entirely full, I like to get on early, and look as sketchy/unwelcoming as possible while the rest of the bus loads. Looking like the kind of person YOU would not want to sit beside for a long trip, means that I have a higher chance of having two seats to myself. Reading a full-sized newspaper, (vs. a magazine), chatting away on my cell phone (with lots of “omg!!!” and “oh… what-ever!” or “oh baby, I’m missing you so much already. no, you’re the cutest, no, you are, no, you are…”), or putting my large purse on the seat next to me and riffling through it while looking entirely annoyed that I can’t find the imaginary thing that I’ve lost in it’s depths… are a few of the “I’m a bad seat-buddy” vibes I like to send out when I really need the quiet time of a solo ride… Waiting in line, I never chat with solo travelers, only couples. Another solo traveler is much more likely to take the line-chatter as a sign of a newly made friendship, and want to continue the conversation during the bus ride…. Of course, the opposite applies for shorter trips, when chatting with a row-mate is much more interesting than flipping through the same magazine 4 times…

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Hansen N Hunt August 31, 2010 at 7:59 pm

That would scare me away for sure

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Dave August 31, 2010 at 9:23 pm

In the US, on wi-fi buses, I’ll take out my full size laptop to try and keep seatmates away.

“Another solo traveler is much more likely to take the line-chatter as a sign of a newly made friendship, and want to continue the conversation during the bus ride….” — as an often solo traveler, this is so true.

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budget accommodation September 7, 2010 at 11:57 am

I like the window seat…the aisle makes me feel uncomfortable when people starts gathering around my seat.

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Martin September 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

Hey, here’s a bit food for thought

You should consider having a small webinar on the same topic. I’m sure that there would be quite many interested people :)

All you need is a computer, a webcam and a platform via which to stream your webinar. Websites like ustream, livestream or http://www.tvmad.com offer these services.

If you decide to do it then let me know, I’ll be 100% there to see your show :)

Cheers,
Martin

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Kimberly Juchnowski September 13, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Good list of things to think about. The one about figure out where the sun will be is choice! You never think about this until you’re dying of heat and getting a sunburn on only half of your body. My left arm has been substantially darker than the right for months now…can’t seem to even it out.

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Dave September 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Hi Kim, I routinely make the mistake of leaving my right arm out in the sun, which leads to exactly the kind of off-balance tan you mentioned!

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Yiougf4 December 3, 2010 at 2:43 pm

don’t recall ever having to use the toilet while everyone else was asleep

Read more: http://gobackpacking.com/2010/08/30/how-to-choose-best-seat-on-a-bus/#ixzz173m5Qf8c

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Good Old Paranoia January 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Hey, that’s a great list of things to have in mind, I would like to think of myself as a “backpacker in progress” and your blog is giving me a lot of information and travel tips that have been really useful so far. I’m planning a trip to Spain on July and I’m looking for accommodation advice. I’ll be staying in Madrid and studying Spanish for as long as it takes :) I’m traveling on a budget so I’m looking for cheap apartments in Madrid, any advice on that matter? I’ve found tons of options at http://www.clickbed.com/general-information/cheap-apartments-in-madrid-1058lp.html but maybe you have better options for me. Thanks a lot!

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Guest June 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Thanx, helpful

Reply

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